(Reuters) - Five-time NBA champion Kobe Bryant has a torn rotator cuff, according to preliminary results of an MRI exam, the Los Angeles Lakers said on Thursday.
Bryant, who hurt his right shoulder on a dunk in the second half of Wednesday's game against the New Orleans Pelicans, will return to Los Angeles later on Thursday and be examined by team doctors on Friday, the team said in a statement.
The high-scoring guard will miss Thursday's game against the defending NBA champion San Antonio Spurs and the rest of his season could be in jeopardy depending on the severity of the tear.
Bryant, a former league most valuable player, twice an NBA scoring leader and a two-time MVP of the NBA Finals, had sat out eight of the previous 16 games for "rest" reasons and had complained about an achy shoulder.
Asked Thursday before results of the MRI were known if an injury might encourage the team to shut Bryant down for the rest of the season, coach Byron Scott said a lot depended on how Bryant felt.
“He knows his body pretty well,” Scott told the Orange County Register. “He’s probably one of the toughest guys in this league as far as playing through injury and through pain.”
The 36-year-old, a 16-time All-Star, is averaging 22.3 points from 35 games this season and is signed through next season after inking a two-year extension in 2013 for $48.5 million.
Bryant, who is fourth on the NBA's all-time scoring list, played in only six games last season due to knee and Achilles tendon injuries as the Lakers struggled to a 27-55 record.
This season, after losing Pau Gasol to free agency and another season to injury for veteran point guard Steve Nash, the Lakers are 12-31, second from last in the Western Conference.
Reporting by Larry Fine in New York; Editing by Frank Pingue/Mark Lamport-Stokes